From villains to heroes: Are Pringles and Lucozade about to unveil more sustainable packaging?

EXCLUSIVE: Moves by Kellogg's and Lucozade to develop more sustainable packaging solutions for Pringles tubes and Lucozade Sport bottles would send out a "fantastic message" to other manufacturers, the chief executive of a recycling trade body has said.

The Recycling Association contacted Pringles manufacturer Kellogg’s and was informed that developments are afoot to improve the recyclability of its product design

The Recycling Association contacted Pringles manufacturer Kellogg’s and was informed that developments are afoot to improve the recyclability of its product design

In a recent appearance on BBC Breakfast, the Recycling Association’s chief executive Simon Ellin singled out specific packaging examples such as Pringles tubes and Lucozade Sport bottles as “villains” of the recycling world.

Pringles packaging – composed of a metal base, plastic cap, metal tear-off lid, and foil-lined cardboard sleeve – was said to be a particular "nightmare” for recycling machines.

When asked by edie this week if any steps had been taken to improve their respective product designs, Lucozade Ribena Suntory insisted it is “consistently reviewing” the packaging design of all its products, while Pringles manufacturer Kellogg’s said that it was “continuously working to improving its environmental performance”.

The Recycling Association itself contacted Pringles manufacturer Kellogg’s after Ellin’s TV appearance, and was informed that developments are afoot, although Kellogg’s was unwilling to disclose further information at that stage. Ellin is hopeful that a positive outcome will be reached, and claims that a move towards more recyclable packaging would set an example for other retailers and brands to follow.

“It would be a fantastic message for the industry,” Ellin told edie. “Imagine that we talk to Pringles, they redesign the tube, they keep the iconic brand that meets all the food safety standards and becomes virtually 100% recyclable

“What a great example that would be to sit in front of breakfast TV and say ‘this is what we reported six months ago, and this is what has happened’. It would be a great example for everyone else to follow, and I’m sure the sales of Pringles would go through the roof as a result.”

Ellin pointed towards the likes of Coca-Cola and Unilever as prime examples of businesses that are profiting from sustainable activities such as re-use and recovery. Indeed, Unilever’s 'Sustainable Living' brands delivered more than 60% of its growth last year, growing at twice the rate of the rest of the company. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola’s European branch last week unveiled a new packaging strategy for its Great Britain operations to boost recycled content in its products to 50%.

“It shows that it can be done,” Ellin added. “It shows that it can be successful and that it can have a benefit to the business. But if you bury your head in the sand and still produce something along the lines of a Pringles tube, then you are not playing your part.”

'Bastion of bad design'

In light of the accusations levelled at Lucozade and Pringles, Co-op’s environment manager Iain Ferguson last month said that, rather than pointing the finger at bad practice among manufacturers, the waste management industry should look to encourage brands and retailers to step up their efforts by focusing more on the sustainability improvements needed for packaging.

Responding to Ferguson’s comments, Ellin said that excuses must not be made for irresponsible design practices that fail to bring sustainable packaging to market.

“What [Ferguson] says does have some substance, but we very much feel that the onus is always switched onto the waste management reprocess and recycling people,” Ellin told edie. “We are given a mess that we are supposed to deal with. We do that very successfully, but we could do it a lot more successfully if we had responsibility in the supply chain.

“I don’t believe for one second that Pringles don’t know that they have got a receptacle that is one of the worst out there in terms of recyclability. It’s well known that the Pringles tube is a bastion of bad design.

“Retailers, and indeed any packaging designer, have a responsibility in 2017 to put recycling right at the top of the agenda. To say that it’s the waste management industry’s responsibility is to put pressure on them, almost gets them out of a corner.”

Fit for purpose

Ellin stressed that the Recyling Association, which operates as the trade body for independent waste paper processors and their equipment suppliers, is always willing to speak with designers on improvements in the packaging process. Last week, for example, Ellin provided practical guidance to soft drinks manufacturer Britvic. Nevertheless, the waste management industry cannot force brands to heed its advice, he warned.

“What it is all about is responsibility and partnership throughout the supply chain, and that starts at the design stage; through to the retailer to the distribution, through to the householder and then recycler, and then onto the mill. I acknowledge that we all need to talk to each other to ensure that our system is fit for purpose at every link in that supply chain.”

--- Coming of age: The heroes and villains of the circular economy ---

George Ogleby


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